The question of whether or not being raised by same sex parents impacts a child's mental health has been evaluated by the scientific community for the past three decades. The mental health effects that LGBT parents exert on their children has been at the root of the debate over the right to marriage equality by LGBT couples. People who oppose same sex marriage, incuding some U.S. elected officials, have argued that a child raised by a gay parent will need additional emotional support or will face social challenges compared to children of heterosexual parents.
According to the 2010 United States Census Bureau, two million children are being raised by lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender parents (LGBT) in southern states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and southwest Utah. Children who have same sex couples as parents were either conceived in opposite sex marriages or relationships, an alternative insemination, a surrogate, foster parenting, or adoption.
The myth of poor mental health by children of same sex parents has been debunked by an Australian study conducted at the University of Melborne and published in the journal BMC Public Health. The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS) is a large investigation of 500 Australian children below the age of 18 with same sex parents. Researchers found that children with LGBT parents had the same amount of self-esteem and spent as much family time with their parents compared to children of heterosexual parents. In fact, investigators found that children of gay and lesbian couples to be healthier and have a stronger family unit.
"Research shows that children raised by gay or lesbian parents do as well as other children in terms of well-being, adjustment, functioning and peer relationships, and researchers have found no differences in terms of depression, anxiety and self-esteem," said Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at the César E. Chávez Institute at San Francisco State University.
More research on lesbian parents than gay parents exists, showing that children raised by lesbian parents show higher levels of social, academic and overall competence and have had fewer behavioral problems and less aggression than their peers, said Ryan. Research has shown that the sexual orientation of a child's parents does not effect their development, but that the quality of the parent and child relationship is what really shapes their mental health.
"[LGBT] parents provide an equally supportive and healthy environment for their children as heterosexual parents," said Dr. Fran Walfish, a child and family psychotherapist and author in Beverly Hills, Calif. As a parent and family psychotherapist, Dr. Walfish has treated both boys and girls of lesbian parents, as well as those of heterosexual parents, and found that the chidren thrive and are equally happy.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) believes that while children of LGBT parents are just as well adjusted as children with heterosexual parents, they can face some challenges. Children raised by LGBT couples may face discrimination in their respective communities or be the subject of childish taunting. The AACAP suggests for LGBT parents to help their children cope in the following ways:
- Prepare your child to handle questions and comments about their background or family.
- Allow for open communication and discussions that are appropriate to your child's age and level of maturity.
- Help your child come up with and practice appropriate responses to teasing or mean remarks.
- Use books, websites, and movies that show children in LGBT families.
- Consider having a support network for your child. (For example, having your child meet other children with gay parents.)
- Consider living in a community where diversity is more accepted.
Personal Growth In Children With LGBT Parents
A paper examining the personal and social development of children with gay and lesbian parents, reviewed studies on sexual identity, personal growth, and social relationships. Behavioral problems, moral judgment, adjusting to school, intelligence, and drug and alcohol use were compared between children of LGBT parents and those with heterosexual parents. All studies came to the conclusion that there is no significant difference in the cognitive and behavioral development of children raised by LGBT parents.
Gender Identity In Children With LGBT Parents
Children of same sex parents do not show any differences in the development of gender identity or gender-role behavior based on the sexual orientation of their parents. In a study published in the journal of Human Reproduction, researchers examined the development and well-being of children who are born to lesbian couples that used donor insemination to have their child. These children reported no significant differences when compared to children raised by heterosexual parents when it came to preference of games, toys, and activities.
Relationships In Children With LGBT Parents
Peer and Family Relationships
While children of same sex parents report no significant problems in building relationships with their peers, a small amount of children with lesbian mothers have been teased or bullied at school. However, researchers have found that the level in which these kids are taunted does not affect their overall adjustment and relationships with their peers. In a study conducted at the University of Virginia, researchers examined 44 adolescents that were parented by lesbian couples and 44 adolescents parented by heterosexual couples. Both groups of adolescents self-reported and peer-reported their interactions amongst one another. The results of the study showed that the quality of peer relations is not associated with family type sexual orientation. Moreover, children who were closer to their parents had higher quality peer relations and more friends in school, regardless of their parents' sexual orientation.
LGBT Adoption In The U.S.
In the U.S., whether or not same sex parents can adopt varies by jurisdiction.
State Laws That Limit or Prohibit Adoption by LGBT Individuals or Couples:
1. Arizona gives a preference to married couples over a single adult in adoption placement.
2. A Kentucky court has said that the state does not permit unmarried couples to use the stepparent adoption procedures.
3. Mississippi prohibits "[a]doption by couples of the same gender."
4. Nebraska does not permit second parent or co-parent adoption.
5. North Carolina does not allow second parent or co-parent adoption.
6. Ohio does not permit second parent or co-parent adoption.
7. Utah prohibits anyone cohabiting in a non-marital sexual relationship from adopting. Utah also gives a preference to married couples over any single adult in adoptions or foster care placement.
8. Wisconsin does not permit second parent or co-parent adoption.
For more information on the varies types of adoptions by LGBT parents visit the National Center For Lesbian Rights (NCLR).